Book Reviews by Genre: Retold Fairy Tales

Spinning Silver
Novik, Naomi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!


About seven years ago, there seemed to be a renaissance of fairy tale retellings and reimagining that swept through popular culture. From television shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm to movies like Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Mirror Mirror (2012) to the books of Melanie Dickerson, it seemed that wherever you turned, you could find someone’s different take on classic fairy tales. While perhaps a little outside this bubble of pop culture, Spinning Silver has the benefit of standing out in a field of genre books that seems to have cooled in recent years.

Based partially on the story of Rumpelstiltskin, author Naomi Novik has masterfully combined elements of Jewish and Russian folklore to reimagine this story from a somewhat more modern perspective while also maintaining its fairytale settings and tropes. If anything, her strong and independent female characters highlight how chauvinistic the original fairy tales seem when compared to the culture we’re living in today. I appreciated how smart the story is, taking the concept of “turning silver into gold” from a merely economical standpoint and turning it on its head by adding in fantastical elements more akin to alchemy.

While the point of view of this book jumped around from a few of the characters, I found the interconnectedness of their stories to be incredibly well done. I probably would have left out the old woman’s POV, since it didn’t add anything other than some unnecessary backstory, but other than that, each character’s storyline had its own tone, challenges, and uniqueness to make the entire plot a well-rounded affair. Writing the story in this way helped to humanize antagonists, provide the terror of poverty, and show plenty of character growth throughout the characters. Even the fact that the “simple” solution of the climax wasn’t the best solution for the characters speaks to the depth of thinking that went into this brilliant plot.

An intelligent and well-written fairy tale reimagining, I give Spinning Silver 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Book Review: Wicked
Gregory Maguire
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Set in the Land of Oz with all of your favorite characters, Wicked by Gregory MaGuire is one for the books. Despite not having written the original book, McGuire is able to captivate the same feelings in his prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Instead of following around Dorthy, we get to see the intriguing side of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. The story follows her life from birth to the end of The Wizard of Oz. In the middle, we see her life and what lead her to be the way that she ended up being. Her struggles and hardships are demonstrated to the reader in almost an attempt to justify her actions. The book details her relationships and experiences with all of the people who have come into her life. The book gradually turns into a book about self-acceptance and ignorance is not always bliss, rather than just a life narrative.
Gregory MaGuire, is one of a kind. He is able to make his audience view one of the most classic books (The Wizard of Oz) in a completely new way. He stays true to the original story, yet changes the whole context that the Wicked Witch is put in. I initially picked up this book because it was recommended to me by a Broadway fanatic, and I will definitely be picking up the next few in the series very soon. The book is addicting and leaves you needing more. It is definitely one of the top three books that I have read this year.

Reviewer's Name: Emma K.
The Snow Child
Ivey, Eowyn
4 stars = Really Good

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple homesteading on the Alaskan frontier. The workload is never-ending, and without children to help with plowing, planting and harvest, they struggle not only to survive, but to avoid losing themselves to despair and disappointment. It is a story not only of survival and grit, but also of the kindness found in a community of like-minded individuals and families. This theme is typical of much historical fiction about western expansion and pioneer life, but this story holds an unexpected and delightful twist, where magic, reality and fairytales intersect. The first snow of the year is met with a playfulness that is not typical of Mabel and Jack. They end their snowball fight by building a snow-child near their cabin, complete with mittens, a hat, and arms made from twigs. The next day, they discover that their snow child was destroyed during the night – likely by wild animals. Their journey from that point is full of hope and expectation. The story has a dream-like, ethereal quality, yet the author maintains the sense of solidity that is required for historical fiction to work. The pace is slow, but fits well with the time and place. I sincerely enjoyed this author’s first novel. It made me think about the importance of accepting others as they are – always an important consideration. I have Eowyn Ivey’s second book in my “to read” stack right now, and will eagerly read her future offerings.

Reviewer's Name: Laura F.
Anaya, Rudolfo
4 stars = Really Good

Serafina's Stories shares the folklore of the southwest through the story telling template of Scheherazade's One Thousand and One Nights. Rudolfo Anaya focuses on the time of the Pueblo revolt against the Spanish Conquistadores. The captured Serafina weaves tales from both Pueblo and Spanish tradition that illuminate the similarites and differences of the peoples struggling to coexist in the same land.

Reviewer's Name: Maria